Pharmacogenomics Serves as the Critical Driver for Precision Medicine

June 1, 2015
Pharmacogenomics Serves as the Critical Driver for Precision Medicine
A classic example of applying pharmacogenomics in a clinical setting. A blood sample is taken from patients with the same condition and either added to a microarray or used with next-generation sequencing to look for genetic variants that affect responses to drugs used to treat the condition. The analysis will yield results that allow physicians to determine if their patient will have a positive response to the drug treatment. [National Human Genome Research Institute]

Jeffrey S. Buguliskis, Ph.D.

One of the most practical applications of precision medicine lies within the field of pharmacogenomics, a portmanteau of pharmacology and genomics. It is a discipline designed for tailoring drug treatments to an individual’s genetic make-up.

While scientists have had clinically relevant pharmacogenetic examples of drugs functioning only for patients with specific genetic backgrounds for several decades, the field has burgeoned into the encompassing specialty of pharmacogenomics, shifting away from observing a small number of candidate genes to searching for genome wide biomarkers.

Interestingly, one of the first examples of pharmacogenetics occurred around 510 BCE, when the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras observed that the ingestion of fava beans were fatal to some individuals and not to others. What Pythagoras couldn’t do at the time was formulate a scientific hypothesis to provide him with an answer as to what had caused such a disparity in symptoms. Now we know about the disease clinicians often refer to as favism, which is a genetic mutation in the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase gene that predisposes those with the mutation to potentially fatal hemolytic anemia in the presence of certain foods, drugs, or chemicals. 

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